A Clear and Present Vision 4

Oceana is dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans.

Oceana was founded in 2001 by a group of leading foundations after a study they commissioned revealed that less than 0.5 percent of all resources spent by environmental nonprofit groups in the United States went to ocean advocacy, an appalling statistic! In other words, no organization was working exclusively to protect and restore the oceans on a global scale.

To fill the gap, the founders created Oceana: an international organization focused solely on oceans, dedicated to achieving measurable change by conducting specific, science-based campaigns with fixed deadlines and articulated goals. In 2002, Oceana merged with American Oceans Campaign, founded in 1987 by actor and environmentalist Ted Danson, to more effectively address the common mission of protecting and restoring the world’s oceans.

To date, Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation in the world and has won more than 100 victories and protected more than one million square miles of ocean. It has been a steady, concerted effort, with the mission coming directly to Orange County in 2008, when the nonprofit’s inaugural SeaChange Summer Party was held to raise funds for the cause.

From the outset, the SeaChange Summer Party has been a success. Sold out every year with more than 400 guests at a private estate in Laguna Beach, the effort raises more money for the nonprofit than any of its fundraisers, nearly $8 million in seven years.

The SeaChange Summer Party co-founders are Valarie Van Cleave and Julie Hill, with Van Cleave co-chairing the next year’s benefit with Ted Danson and each succeeding SeaChange party with Eve Kornyei Ruffatto.

Van Cleave had been looking for a nonprofit that supported ocean conservation and after doing her due diligence and meeting with some top management members at various nonprofits, she selected Oceana in 2007.

“It was clear where I wanted to put my time and effort,” she says. “I wanted to raise awareness and support in Orange County because of the importance of the beaches and coastline to the county’s economy and its way of life.”

Van Cleave was a natural for Oceana, as she was a seasoned scuba diver and had seen first-hand the rapid deterioration of the oceans.

“It was alarming, and I wanted to do something about it. Julie and I thought we could produce an event to raise both awareness and funds, and SeaChange was born.”

Besides offering an elegant seated gourmet dinner and top-drawer auctions, SeaChange has drawn a star-studded group of celebrities to celebrate Oceana and its victories. Among them have been Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dennis Haysbert, Josh Brolin, Diane Lane, Sam Waterston, Pierce Brosnan, Morgan Freeman, as well as Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Bridges and Sheryl Crow, all of whom performed. Alexandra and Philippe Cousteau, Jr., grandchildren of the famous oceans explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, were special guests for their work on ocean issues.

This year’s eighth annual SeaChange Summer Party will be held August 1st at The Strand at Headlands in Dana Point and will feature a “Mad About the Oceans!” theme with special guests, Mad Men stars Jon Hamm and January Jones. Marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala will be honored.

Danson will once again be attending. Van Cleave, who serves as vice chair on Oceana’s international board, has nothing but wonderful things to say about him.

“Oceana is fortunate to have the hardest working man in ocean conservation on our board. He devotes an incredible amount of time to the oceans.”

Danson, who is also a member of Oceana’s board, says of his involvement:

“I’ve been working to save our oceans for almost 30 years, and I am so proud to be on the board of Oceana and to have been able to attend SeaChange since the beginning. It’s an incredible event that has made a huge difference for marine conservation and Oceana.”

As to the enormity of what Oceana is facing, statistics show that there are already seven billion people on Earth, and that figure is expected to grow to a staggering nine billion people by 2050. The planet must produce 70 percent more food to meet the coming hunger needs, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Right now, one billion people on this planet suffer from hunger, and there is not enough arable land and fresh water to feed two billion more people without incurring severe losses to the natural world.

The oceans cover 71 percent of the globe and provide livelihoods to countless fishermen and others around the world. They also feed hundreds of millions of people and have the capacity to provide a healthy seafood meal to a billion people every day. Unfortunately, the oceans are in trouble. Scientists report that the amount of fish caught from the oceans began declining-for the first time in recorded history–just a few decades ago.

Oceana has a solution–wild fish. Studies show that by implementing better and proven management measures, the potential increase in the global fish catch could be up 40 percent from current levels. Oceana believes that by rebuilding ocean biodiversity and abundance, nearly a billion people can eat a healthy seafood meal each day.

“We think wild fish should be an important part of the food matrix because it is the lowest cost of animal protein, uses no fresh water or land and virtually no CO2 emissions,” Van Cleave says. “It is what we call the perfect protein.”

Van Cleave points out that Oceana CEO, Andrew Sharpless, together with co-author Suzannah Evans, wrote the book, The Perfect Protein, explaining how wild fish are the perfect protein and, when properly managed, can provide a delicious, nutritious and renewable source of protein for millions of people.

Unfortunately, studies show that irresponsible fishing has reduced many wild fish populations to historically low levels right at the moment when the world needs its oceans more than ever. Oceana campaigns in the countries that control 25 percent of the world’s wild fish catch in order to win policy victories that can increase biodiversity in our oceans and deliver more seafood in the future.

Oceana’s approach has achieved dozens of concrete policy victories for marine life and habitats. Proper management of fisheries have yielded success in Norway with herring, Japan with snow crab, and European Union’s Bay of Biscay with anchovy. Recently, with sea lions starving off the California coastline, in larger part because sardines were being over fished, Oceana convinced the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to shut down this fishery in the short term and establish new quotas going forward. Destructive and wasteful fishing practices with longlines, gillnets and trawl nets, which kill indiscriminately and damage important habitat, are also being addressed, as well as the big problem of illegal fishing around the world.

Van Cleave explains the wasteful fishing practices further.

“Right now, off the coast of California, there are mile-long drift nets targeting swordfish,” she says. “Unfortunately, these nets collect everything, including whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks. It’s documented that more than 600 of these animals are killed in commercial fishing nets each year off our coastline. Many more are suspected. There are less wasteful and harmful fishing gears available to catch swordfish. Oceana is working to transition this fishery to these methods.”

Ruffatto, who grew up in Budapest, Hungary, never saw an ocean until age 13, when her parents took her there.

“It was so beautiful–clean and filled with life–and it made a huge impression on me,” she says.

A self-confessed environmentalist by nature, Ruffatto has embraced Oceana because she wants future generations to be able to experience what she did at age 13.

One of the issues that Oceana addresses is seafood fraud, which is high on Ruffatto’s list of concerns.

“When you buy fish or order it in a restaurant, you want to confidently know what it is because it is honestly and thoroughly labeled,” Ruffatto says.

From 2010 to 2012, Oceana conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world, collecting more than 1,200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third, or 33 percent, of the samples were mislabeled. And, despite frequent media coverage, as well as state and federal enforcement on the issue, seafood fraud remains a persistent problem in the U.S. The Oceana study suggests federal attention to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legal and honestly labeled, just like other foods we eat.

Suffice it to say, this 14-year-old protector and restorer of our most precious resource is making an impact, and its victories represent a new hope for the world’s oceans.

Van Cleave sums it up nicely:

“Our mission is to save the oceans to feed the world. We are not anti-fishing. It just needs to be done in a sustainable way, so the hundreds of millions of people who rely on fishing for their livelihood and wild fish as their source of protein, can continue to do so for generations to come.”